Jonathan Mativo, whom I first met in Kenya in December at our Social Media for Social Change workshop was one of our core FrontlineSMS trainers last month. In January, Mativo left Plan to found his own organization called ICT4D Kenya which operates in the Kilifi and Machakos districts in the Southern Coast of Kenya. He was motivated to move beyond the commercial ICT sector to ICT4 community development by his 4 years of work at Plan. “Previously I didn’t have any background on ICT4D. I only looked at ICT from the operational point of view but Plan really inspired me to work with children to see them realize their full potential.” ICT4D Kenya envisions young children confident in participatory media, children that see ICTs as enablers for development rather than just tools to perform work. “We also foresee a changed community – people who are socially together.”
Photo: Mativo is the founder of ICT4D.
ICT4D Kenya targets communities and schools, with the aim of building the capacity of youth, men and women through community ICT resource centers to introduce them to new ways of learning. ICT4D Kenya is also experimenting with interactive learning. “Normally students learn by rote. They basically take notes extracted from text books.” In their free time children expected to study, but “they are just revising materials from textbooks that have been copied into their notebooks…. They are hardly concentrating on what they are doing.” Mativo wants to introduce interactive learning materials in schools so children will be more attentive in class. He’s also planning some school linking projects where students in different districts can communicate to share culture and motive each other to improve school performance. Photo: Wajuhi and Mativo at Plan’s training on mobile data gathering in Kwale, Kenya
We’re not talking old, slow computers though. “One thing about Africa is that we are used to free things. That’s why we are congesting our country with refurbished things.” Mativo believes that to take ICT ahead in Africa, schools need access to the technology that they would get in the real market. “Often we get old computers, slow, hard to maintain and without proper e-waste solutions. We should be looking at affordable technology and ways to get ICTs to Africa rather than just dumping refurbished equipment.” So what about refurbished/donated phones? “Small gadgets are a different story. If you look at the features of a mobile, as long as it can send an SMS, it’s fine. SMS is one thing we are really looking at for social change.”
Mativo has worked with one school to install FrontlineSMS (http://www.frontlinesms.com/) in order to communicate with parents. This year there was a teachers strike. Most schools sent their children home. But this school got all the parent/caretaker contact information. “Within 2 days we had all the mobile numbers.” They keyed them into FrontlineSMS and the head teacher used the software to send an SMS to all the parents and asked if they should send the children home or not. “We got 237 out of around 400 messages back from parents on the first day saying ‘don’t send our children home’ and the rest said to send them home.’” So the head teacher kept the children at school, and when a parent questioned the decision at a parents’ meeting later in the year, he used the SMS he had saved to explain the reasons.
Now the school is using the software for all kinds of things. On annual Prize Day instead of the normal low turn-out, they had 75% turnout for the first time this year. “Parents said you communicated with us in due time by SMS and kept communicating with us over time to remind us.” Normally students are given newsletters during holiday times and parents don’t remember key dates when they finally roll around.
Mativo sees his role as demystifying ICTs and finding the best way possible to ensure people understand ICTs from a non technical point of view. “When I have to explain what a computer is, I always refer it as ‘that box there’ so that people don’t look at it as too delicate. In most cases I open the CPU for people to understand that it’s just an empty box that they shouldn’t be too afraid of.” Mativo says that many people believe it’s not possible to change their communities’ way of thinking, especially people who are working in commercial ICTs. “They need to internalize what community development is all about and that ICT can be downgraded to reach out to people in communities regardless of their skills, their background and their exposure. ICT and community development is real.”
Photo: Simplifying ICTs for people.
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